Law School’s Linda Greenhouse: U.S. Supreme Court Faces Troubling Times

When I started covering the U.S. Supreme Court in the late 1970s, after finishing at Yale Law School, the overhang of the Warren court was still quite discernible. Justice Brennan, who led support for the Warren court’s liberal decisions, was still active and remained active until 1990. He could still pull a few rabbits out of a hat.

One thing that was interesting about the court in those days compared to today is that there were three or four justices in the middle of the ideological spectrum, so that outcomes of cases were not foreordained. Lawyers could stand up to argue their case, and instead of just playing to Justice Kennedy—knowing it’s four plus four and Anthony Kennedy in the middle—they would have to make acceptable arguments that would reach the middle of the court. The polarization that we see today, which a lot of our law students take for granted because they’ve never known anything else, is really unusual.

And the other thing that’s unusual about it is that the ideological position on the spectrum of each justice maps onto that of the president who appointed that justice. So, the five most conservative justices were all named by Republican presidents, and the five most liberal were named by Democratic presidents. It’s hard for people to look at the court and not just see raw politics, raw political preference, instead of a judicial process. And that is new and, I’m tempted to say, unprecedented, at least in my lifetime… I think it’s a real problem in the way we think about the court today. We’re in a horrible mess. I’m, as a citizen, very upset. I don’t know how we’re going to get out of it. Linda Greenhouse, Joseph Goldstein Lecturer in Law and Knight Distinguished Journalist in Residence, Yale Law School; contributing op-ed writer, New York Times

About the Event

Linda Greenhouse is the former Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times and professor at the Yale Law School. Join the Business and Politics Club for a lunch discussion with Professor Greenhouse on the Roberts court and how it differs from courts of the past.